Introducing QTurn’s White Paper #1: A Theoretical Framework for Connecting Positive Child Outcomes to Quality Out-of-School Time Programs

In the first white paper released by QTurn, Smith and Peck introduce a theoretical framework for understanding how high-quality out-of-school time (OST) programs lead to positive outcomes for children and youth. The Multilevel Person-in-Context~neuroperson (MPCn) framework outlines the nature and growth of social and emotional learning (SEL) skills for children in OST settings. The framework is also the first component of QTurn’s Quality-Outcomes Design and Methods (Q-ODM) Toolbox.

White Paper #1

Q-ODM Infographic

Inner Processes Driving Outward Behavior

A key feature of the MPCn framework is that it describes how observable behavior is connected to inner mental processes. Understanding the influence and dynamics of past experiences, beliefs, attitudes, goals, and attention, for example, are necessary for explaining how programs promote positive social, emotional, and academic outcomes. Research and evaluation in the OST field has understandably focused on observable behavior. However, a framework that elucidates the inner causes and connections among the mental processes driving outward behavior is needed to guide policy and program improvement. (The authors contrast this approach with positivist theory and methodology. For an overview and critique of positivism, see the reference section at the bottom of the page.

In the MPCn framework, the term “neuroperson” encompasses three types of mental processes that influence children’s behavior in OST programs: schemas, beliefs, and awareness. These are described in the red portions of the figure below.

First, children enter settings with schemas. These are learned, automatic ways of viewing other people and events. Schemas can also be described as concepts or mental frameworks for organizating information. For example, a child may have a schema for “caregiver” that identifies caregivers as adults who are kind and attentive and meet basic needs for things like food and affection.

When something happens that triggers a schema, that schema can influence the child’s ability to regulate their emotions. It also shapes the quality of their attachments to others. For example, if a child’s schema for caregiver is based on past experiences with abusive adults, an adult who raises their voice may activate this schema, evoking anxiety and avoidance. The inclusion of schemas in their framework highlights the need to consider baseline SEL skills (e.g., attachment styles) and prior stress or trauma as children enter a program. Learn more about schemas at VeryWellMind.

Second, children enter OST settings with beliefs about themselves and the world. These combine to form attitudes, goals, and plans and influence how they view and respond to other people and events. Beliefs can change over the course of a year, but they may be formed either automatically or through self-reflection.

Third, how children focus their awareness influences whether they will respond to a situation habitually or skillfully, with intention. The authors use the term awareness to refer to executive functions and describe how awareness interacts with schemas and beliefs.

Settings Within Settings

Another feature of the framework is its recognition of the nested contexts in which children and youth develop (illustrated in the right half of the figure). A child in an OST program interacts with counselors and other front-line staff. Children are directly affected by the high-quality practices delivered by staff. These staff are in turn affected by management practices occuring at the program level. Their job satisfaction, for example, may influence how they perform at the point-of-service. Programs are shaped by the communities in which they operate, and communities are influenced by city, state, and national policies and events. In this way, children are indirectly affected by multiple settings.

In their paper, the authors describe the causal pathways from baseline skills through point-of-service quality to SEL skill growth and longer-term outcomes.

Improving Outcomes for the Most Vulnerable

Of particular interest in QTurn’s work is how SEL skills improve for the most vulnerable children, those who enter programs with lower skills. The framework describes SEL “equity effects” in programs where vulnerable children experience growth in SEL skills similar to or exceeding their more typically developing peers. Equity effects are explored through QTurn’s unique analytical methods, another major component of the Q-ODM Toolbox.

The MPCn framework can help OST programs understand and respond to children who have had adverse life experiences. The framework also emphasizes the role of conscious awareness in shaping behavior. Unconscious schemas and beliefs contribute to unconscious, automatic behavior and difficulty self-regulating. In contrast, the ability to focus awareness contributes to intentional behavior necessary for learning and the pursuit of long-term goals.

Supports and guidance from QTurn are rooted in the MPCn framework. Subsequent white papers build upon this framework, presenting guidance for research and evaluation design, measurement, and analysis.

References

Breen, L. J., & Darlaston-Jones, D. (2010). Moving beyond the enduring dominance of positivism in psychological research: Implications for psychology in Australia. Australian Psychologist, 45, 67–76. doi: 10.1080/00050060903127481. Link: https://researchonline.nd.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1002&context=arts_conference

Teo T. (2018) The Consequences of “Positivism” in Psychology. In: Outline of Theoretical Psychology. Palgrave Studies in the Theory and History of Psychology. Palgrave Macmillan, London. Link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325015126_The_Consequences_of_Positivism_in_Psychology

Houghton, T. (2009). Does positivism really work in the social sciences. Retrieved from
https://www.e-ir.info/2011/09/26/does-positivism-really-%E2%80%98work%E2%80%99-in-the-social-sciences/

Grice, J.W., Barrett, P.T., Cota, L., Felix, C.M., Taylor, Z., Garner, S., Medellin, E., & Vest, A. (2017). Four Bad Habits of Modern Psychologists. Behavioral Sciences, 7. Link: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3406/6ef50009e1d974bca64e235473d4842ce07a.pdf?_ga=2.190158765.789181764.1595443326-236300916.1595443326

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